they recorded Interstellar Space in 1967, John Coltrane and Rashied
Ali set a very high standard for the pairing of drums and horns.
It’s proved a sturdy, if not exactly standard, instrumentation —
think of subsequent duets between Ali and Frank Lowe, Max Roach
and Archie Shepp or Anthony Braxton, Evan Parker and John Stevens,
Han Bennink and Willem Breuker, Jimmy Lyons and Andrew Cyrille, Fred
Anderson and Steve McCall, Steve Lacy and Steve Arguelles, Mats
Gustafsson and Paul Lovens. Drums and reeds work well together,
leaving the energy, drive, and punctual power without either the
bass or piano to suggest or demand a particular harmonic territory.
It’s a direct intimate line of communication between two complementary
instruments, but it’s a demanding format as well, each player bare,
open for all ears to hear, with nothing much to hide behind
Brötzmann loves to play with drummers. He’s worked with some
of the very best, including long-term stands with Bennink, Louis
Moholo, and Ronald Shannon Jackson. But his duo with Chicagoan Hamid
Drake is something else, something very special. In the half-dozen
or so times I’ve seen them since Leo Krumpholtz first paired them
a few years back for a concert at Southend Musicworks (Drake replaced
East German pianist Ulrich Gumpert, who couldn’t make the tour),
it’s gradually become my favorite setting for the tenor Teuton.
Indeed, I’d venture to say that The Dried Rat-Dog is the best Brötz
record in 15 years (probably his best sounding record ever!), packed
with unexpected gestures, warmth, subtlety, gumbo, vulnerability,
and enough passion and blast to remind you you’re alive.
brings out a rarely seen gentle side of Brötzmann; it was always
there, just eclipsed by his more mondo mania. With an unerring sense
of time and gritty swing, Drake plays body music. He has a loving
brush that’ll lull you and a strong stroke that’ll clobber you —
either way physical response is required. His trap solo on the title
cut shows what conviction and presence he has; nothing tentative
or unfocused about those rhythmic ideas. Brötz’s reaction to the
percussionist’s big-eared internationalism and Edward Blackwellian
polyrhythms is to counter with highly, charged rhythmic reed work;
the first surprise listening to this record will come from Brötzmann’s
intricate rhythmic interplay, his brilliant clipped staccato exchanges
and disquieting, pulsed, mourning dove cooing on "The Uninvited
Entertainer," for instance. Or his sensuous, rhythmic, vaguely
Middle Eastern e-flat clarinet lines on "Open into the Unknown."
use of tabla, frame drums and hand drums is at once culturally reverent
and appropriate to the particular session. On "The Uninvited
Entertainer," he defies both geographical barriers and gravity,
playing Indian tabla and North African frame drum simultaneously.
I doubt that Brötz would sit still for world music unless it
had the power to overcome any peacenik, multi-culti connotations;
he’s not a "one love" kinda guy. But Drake’s music — informed
by decades of work in reggae and blues bands, with Pierre Dorge’s
New Jungle orchestra, in Mesopotamian frame drum duets with Michael
Zerang, in various groups led by Fred Anderson, and in every other
nook of the rhythm world — is music of awesome power.
recent years it’s become much more common for saxophonists to extend
their expressive capabilities by circular breathing — there’s hardly
anything novel about it anymore. But it would be difficult to imagine
Brötzmann circular breathing, not only because it requires
a technical conceit that goes against his anti-technical aesthetic,
but, because Brötzmann’s basic unit is the breath. Every tone
he makes he pushes forth with the motion of exhaling giving sound
the breath of life, bringing agitated life to each breath. And his
phrasing, like that of the older jazz musicians he admires (from
Lester Young to Sonny Rollins), is organized into breath-length
lines; each of his statements is articulated with the capacity of
his lungs, a finite, flesh-and-blood means of expression.
this, as well, we find the reason that Brötzmann always sounds
so vocal. It’s not just that he has that inimitable burr, that sandpaper
tone that gives his horn-voice such grain, but he plays each line
with the gale force wind of his barrel chest; if you ever doubt
his seriousness, remember that he once broke a rib blowing. Listen
to the melancholy cry of his unaccompanied tenor at the close of
"Trees Have Roots in the Earth." And the ominous, spiritual
bird of prey chronicled in "Dark Wings Carry off the Sky."
Even in his most extreme, strangulated, overblown ejaculations,
Brötzmann is at heart a singer, a tooler of breath, his horn
a long and strangely-shaped larynx.
lovely night in late April. Walking to the Hopleaf bar to meet Bruno
for drinks (rum and coke, a little bourbon: a good burn after the
long day) following nice dinner on the night of the recordings.
Earlier, lunch with Hamid whose smile could melt a candle. Dark
sky, stars, warm breeze. Looking down one of the sidestreets Terri
points at a little pet on its evening walk. "Rat-dog,"
she mumbles quietly. "Hmm. Rat-dog. Rattenhund." Brötzmann
smiles brushing back his beard as he does when he thinks. "Zat’s
not baaad! Have to check it with Hamid...but I like it." So
do I, very much.
Chicago, November 1994